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What is Myrsine?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 27 April 2020
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Myrsine is a genus of flowering shrubs distributed across the subtropical and tropical regions of the world. Hundreds of species are classified in this genus, some of which are endangered as a result of habitat damage and other environmental pressures. Some Myrsine species are domesticated and cultivated as ornamental plants, including in regions outside the tropics. Nurseries and plant catalogs may carry some specimens for people interested in growing them in their home gardens.

Members of this genus vary in size but share an upright growth habit with twiggy stems and evergreen leaves with a leathery texture. The leaves grow alternately and have a simple shape. Flowers are replaced by clusters of berries in the fall and in some species, fruits do not develop until the second year after flowering. The berries are appealing to many bird species, making Myrsine a good addition to a garden where people want to attract birds. They are also edible for humans in some cases, although they are not very interesting and thus are not widely used.

Known by a variety of common names including colicwood and matipo, depending on where they are found, these shrubs thrive in a variety of conditions. While they are frost tender, they can tolerate poor soil and sandy environments and several species are found near the ocean, demonstrating salt tolerance. Many species are drought tolerant and can be safely grown in a low water garden. The evergreen nature of Myrsine species can be an advantage in a garden where watering to maintain greenery is not an option, as these plants will add color and life to the garden throughout the year.

People interested in growing Myrsine shrubs as ornamental plants can choose from a number of varieties. In regions where it does not frost in the winter, the plants can be established as perennials. Pruning is recommended to shape the plants and control their growth habits, and it is advisable to prepare the soil well to support the plants by working in some organic material to add nutrients and facilitate drainage. In regions where the winters get cold, the shrubs can be grown as annuals. Fast growing cultivars are available for this use.

Myrsine shrubs can be used in mass plantings and all borders and edging. They are also suitable for container gardening and can be grown in greenhouses if the outdoor weather is too harsh to support the plants. People growing indoors can use wheeled containers to bring the plants out during the summer and back indoors in the winter months.

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